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SeaWorld Trainers Need Protection from Killer Whales: Fed. Judge

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By Edward Tan, JD on June 01, 2012 7:01 AM

SeaWorld shows may soon get a lot less exciting. A federal judge has ordered SeaWorld to enact safety measures to protect SeaWorld trainers.

Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch upheld violations cited by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration against SeaWorld, Reuters reports. The case came after the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was killed by a killer whale during an Orlando SeaWorld show.

So what kind of protections could be coming down the pike?

Welsch held that erecting physical barriers between the whales and trainers was a technical and economically viable option. In addition, providing oxygen tanks could work, too, along with other safety measures.

All of this means that the days of trainers riding on the backs of orcas could soon be coming to an end.

However, SeaWorld argued that its trainers weren't at any risk to any recognizable hazards. But Welsch disagreed. He cited to the over 100 reports of misbehaving whales, which included three deaths.

On a brighter note for the company, the judge also reduced the fines against it. SeaWorld, which is owned by private equity firm Blackstone Group, must now pay $12,000 instead of $75,000. The fines were for its failure to install adequate stair railings and not protecting its trainers during whale performances.

Tilikum, the killer whale responsible for the 40-year-old Brancheau's death, was known as a difficult animal. It even had its own section in SeaWorld's training manual.

Since Brancheau's death in 2010, SeaWorld trainers haven't performed in the water with whales. This judge's latest ruling could make that practice permanent.

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